CAIRO (AP) — A court in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on Saturday opened the trial of a man accused of stabbing a Coptic Christian priest to deathan attack that shocked the most populous country in the Arab world.
The case dates back to early April when Arsanious Wadid, a 56-year-old priest, was killed on the Mediterranean town’s popular seaside promenade.
Nehru Tawfiq appeared before judges in a crowded courtroom in Alexandria on Saturday, in the first session of his trial. He denied the charges.
Defense attorneys, in their opening argument, said the attack was not “deliberate”.
The court’s top judge, Wahid Sabry, also questioned witnesses about the attack. A witness said the suspect stabbed the priest ‘because he was a Christian’ and tried to attack bystanders when they intervened.
When judges asked the witness to recognize the suspect, he walked to the defendants’ cage where the suspect was being held and identified him, according to a Facebook live stream.
Prosecutors have demanded the maximum sentence for the suspect, which could be the death penalty if convicted.
Sectarian violence is not uncommon in Egypt. Islamic extremists have also targeted Christians in recent years, particularly after the military ousting in 2013 of an elected but divisive Islamist president.
In September 2017, a suspected Islamic State supporter stabbed an 82-year-old Christian doctor to death in Cairo. He was sentenced to death the following year.
Copts in Egypt, the largest Christian community in the Middle East, have repeatedly complained of discrimination. They make up about 10% of Egypt’s more than 103 million people.
At the end of the hour-long hearing, the judges decided to adjourn the trial until May 18, when prosecutors and defense lawyers will continue their arguments.